Visiting A Hindu Temple Essay

My First Visit At The Hindu Temple

I decided to visit a Hindu temple because the Hindu religion was the religion that I knew the least about and was interested in. This assignment gave me an opportunity to learn more about this religion and what their worship services and rituals were like. The temple that I went to was called BAPS Shri Swaminaryan Mandir and it was located in Lilburn. As soon as I walked in, I was amazed by the beautiful architectural design of this Temple. It seemed like it took a lot of hard work and dedication to make the place what it is now. While I was at the temple, I watched the Hindus perform an ancient Vedic ritual called the Abhishek, a ritual bathing to honor the murti of their God.
Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, short for BAPS is a spiritual organization and worship place revealed by Bhagwan Swaminarayan (1781-1830) in the late 18th century and established in 1907 by Shastriji Maharaj (1865-1951). BAPS was founded on the pillars of practical spirituality and they aim to resolve all the spiritual, moral, and social challenges that are happening in the world. BAPS strives to inspire better and happier individuals, families, and societies by basing their activities on the following principles: inspiration energizes its effort against drugs etc, promote harmony and peace, develop a better youth, and sustain the Indian roots.
The Temple was very large and beautiful. My friend and I were both stunned by how gorgeously built the Mandir was. The buildings were big and stretched across several acres of the land. Next to the temple was another large building, which was used as a center for gatherings and entertainment purposes. The temple had many different entrances, the main one we noticed were the big steps that led to the temple. The steps were only opened and allowed to be used once in the beginning of the year, because it’s considered holy. The Mandir (temple) was constructed with Italian marble, Indian pink sandstone, and Turkish limestone. The walls were all carved with delicate carvings of Gods that were carefully shipped all the way from India. The Hindus had very strict rules that had to be followed, such as: no smoking, drinking or eating inside, cell phones had to be turned off, and we had to be silent. We also had to take our shoes off before entering the temple out of respect for the deities and to keep the floors clean.
When I first entered the main worship room, I saw three women walking around the gods in clockwise motion. This clockwise motion is called Pradakshina, a form of worship that represents the fact that god is the center of everything and everyone else surrounds him. There were several gods in the room, each stored in their own window. Many people ranging from old to young kept going up to each god and doing their own prayers. I observed that the prayers were performed in a special way. You had to put your two hands together, close your eyes and pray to that...

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When I sat down to write a post on "how to visit a Hindu temple," I'll admit that I was initially baffled. How does one visit a Hindu temple? In a literal sense, it appears obvious. First, get yourself to one. Second, take off your shoes, and third, step in. Visit, in the most fundamental sense of the word, accomplished.

A visit anywhere, though, is so much more than just the physical action of stepping in and stepping out. Their significance varies from one individual to the next. A vacation to Spain or a business trip to Detroit sound vastly different, but both involve me, the individual, going through the motions of life in a given location and concocting a mental snapshot of the entire experience to pull out in the future.

A trip's purpose doesn't always have concrete shape and form. Because many might not have a tangible reason for visiting a Hindu temple (including myself on many occasions), I instead decided to make this post a Lonely Planet Guide (no affiliation) to the Hindu Temple. Acting as a guide of sorts for the interested visitor is a more promising role than telling others how to visit any place.

Naturally, every Hindu does not attend a temple. Some schools of Hinduism even eschew temples and the rituals often affiliated with them. For those who do attend temples, especially for interested visitors: there is no such thing as the average Hindu temple. They reflect the diversity of Hinduism itself, varying architecturally by region, town, or village of India, by historical era and philosophical school of thought, or by a specific diaspora's spiritual inclinations.

However, as I perceive it, there are three "rules of thumb" -- certain features that a visitor has a high probability of seeing when stopping by any Hindu temple.

Rule of Thumb 1: The Confluence of Polytheism and Monotheism

First and foremost, architecturally, a temple features either one or several shrines containing murtis, images of Hindu deities, to whom the shrines are dedicated. Often, a single shrine might dominate the others, reflecting the temple's affiliation with a primary deity. You may witness devotees circling the shrines as a symbol of respect or offering prayers in front of shrines.

To me, a general recognition of unity in diversity presides at nearly every Hindu temple: an arena in which polytheism and monotheism fluidly interact. Even as multiple shrines combine to form a single temple, several deities mirror the diversity of the indescribable Brahman, the ultimate consciousness underlying existence.

Rule of Thumb 2: The Confluence of Ritual and Devotion

Murtis often reflect the bhakti, or devotional, school of Hinduism, in which age-old mythological stories of justice, compassion, and love honor a single deity, rendering him or her worthy of being placed on a pedestal within a temple.

Inside a temple, perhaps the most colorful process that a visitor might notice is the observance of rituals, or pujas, that represent offerings to the divine. Typically, such rituals symbolize the relationship between the Supreme and the individual, humanizing the Supreme and conversely implying the presence of Brahman in the individual's heart. Rituals involve waking the deity up in the morning with Sanskrit chants, bathing the deity with milk, clarified butter, and water, dressing the deity, and, in the evening, putting the deity to sleep.

Rule of Thumb 3: The Confluence of Individual and Infinite

Pilgrims attend a temple to receive darshan, meaning "sight" in Sanskrit: a metaphorical connection with the Supreme. The image represents an aid for forging this connection mentally.

See the priest circling the deity with a flame and then extending it to the temple-goers? This is the arathi ceremony, which occurs multiple times a day at nearly all Hindu temples. Arathi represents the symbolic surrender of one's existence to the Supreme: a moment that many individuals use for introspection and prayer. As it circles the deity, the flame symbolizes the individual soul's lifelong journey. Then, the priest extends the flame, one-by-one, to each individual in the crowd beside the shrine: a symbolic union of all within an ultimate circle of consciousness.

If ever you plan to book a trip to your nearest Hindu temple, I hope that this brief guide gives you some food for thought. On a less symbolic level than my rules of thumb, they're great places to go for general people watching and good food -- many have scrumptious vegetarian cafeterias. So, if you feel like wandering over to the nearest Hindu temple, here's to a happy and hopefully more informed visit.

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